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What is "the burn" and do my workouts count if I don't hurt?

19 Oct 2022 09:09AM by Tasha Jones - Digital Designer

It all counts

Feeling ‘the burn’ when exercising is that uncomfortable tingling sensation in your muscles – you’ll either love it or hate it. But what is it and if you don’t feel ‘the burn’ after each workout, does it still count?

It all counts

In short – yes, your workouts still counts if you don’t feel the burn. We all have different goals and moving at whatever intensity you enjoy all counts towards a healthy and active lifestyle. 

So, what is the burn?

The most common explanation for feeling ‘the burn’ is due to a waste product called lactate. The good news is that it’s usually a temporary sensation, and it happens when too much lactate builds up in the bloodstream, faster than the body can convert it to energy. 

When working out, the point where that all too familiar ‘burn’ sensation happens is when you reach your lactate threshold - when exercise is so intense that lactate begins to build up in the blood faster than it can be removed. The point at which this threshold is reached is different for each individual and depends on the activity. Through training specifically on your own fitness goals, you can build up your tolerance to lactate for certain exercises and increase your lactate threshold – meaning you will be able to complete more of the exercise before feeling the burn.

So to simplify that, when you feel ‘the burn’ it means you’re pushing yourself! It’s specific to each individual; for one person it may be felt whilst doing short high intensity exercises such as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts, sprints or weightlifting. And for another person they may feel the burn during a cycle class, when they are pushing themselves on a hill climb. It’s all about when the exercise is intense enough for the individual, so the lactate threshold is reached, and ‘the burn’ feeling starts.

Whilst this feeling is uncomfortable, the good news is that when you train like this you will be getting stronger and fitter each time. Some of the benefits of ‘the burn’ include improving your muscle’s ability to use oxygen, lowering your resting heart rate, and if your goal is to lose weight, then this intense exercise can burn calories in a short amount of time. The more you train at intensity, the longer you’ll be able to keep going as your body will adapt and your lactate threshold will improve. This is why someone who regularly does HIIT workouts will be able to perform more reps at a faster pace before they get ‘the burn’, than someone who is a beginner.

When might you feel ‘the burn’ in a workout?

You’re most likely to feel it when pushing your body with a level of exercise that feels intense for you. Examples of when you may or may not feel the burn depending on how trained you are with the specific exercise could relate to; jumping on a cardiovascular machine for an intense 3 minute interval in one of our Strength and Conditioning classes. Or perhaps using a short resistance band for pulse squats in a Pilates Athletic class. 

However, you may not always feel ‘the burn’ with every exercise you do. When you’re working out aerobically (exercising with oxygen present in the muscles) you’re working out at a lower intensity and can keep going for longer periods of time without lactic acid building up. For example, a steady jog, a swim, or an easy to moderate cycle. If your muscles do not burn at the end of the exercise, then you have paced yourself well and your cardiovascular system is able to supply your muscles with oxygen sufficiently the whole time. This sort of training is great for building up your stamina and is perfect if your goal is to complete a long-distance event such as marathon. 

Some people may also feel the burn in a Yoga class, especially if it’s strength based such as Yoga Flow - testing muscular endurance. You may or may not feel the burn in Yoga Calm, but that’s still fine too. These slower paced and calming workouts still count as they are extremely beneficial for your mental health, mobility and flexibility. Helping you move about and live your everyday life happier and with less injury.

So, does it still count if I don’t feel the burn?

Yes, it still counts if you don’t feel ‘the burn’ in your muscles. Movement is movement, no matter the intensity. It gets your endorphins flowing, it’s a chance to have time for yourself or to share time with a workout buddy. 

What exercise you should do is dependent on your personal goals, the time you have available and most importantly what you enjoy and makes you feel your best. Choose from our wide selection of group exercise classes or hit the gym floor at your Virgin Active club. Speak to a Personal Trainer in club or sign up for a free 45 minute personal training session online to learn more about your goals. And remember, everyone is different, whether you’re exercising for your wellbeing, training for a marathon or trying to get a personal best on a chest press. Burn or no burn – if it makes you feel good, then it all counts.

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